Category Archives: contemplation

The Maccabees

This week’s Mass readings from the 1st Book of Maccabees tell the story of the re-dedication of the temple of Jerusalem three years after its profanation  by Antiochus Epiphanes.  About the year 167 BC,  Jews under Judas Maccabeus re-conquered Jerusalem and restored the temple, the heart of their religion.

The first reading this Friday describes the rededication of the temple to its former glory. The Jews continue to celebrate it in the feast of Hannukah. (1 Maccabees 4,36-61}

The New Testament writers, certainly aware of this historic event, recall Jesus cleansing the temple.(Friday’s gospel) Entering Jerusalem after his journey from Galilee, “ Jesus went into the temple area and proceeded to drive out those who were selling things, saying to them, ‘It is written, My house shall be a house of prayer, but you have made it a den of thieves.’” Then, “every day he was teaching in the temple area” until he was arrested and put to death. (Luke 19,45-48)

Cleansing the temple was a symbolic act. By it,  Jesus signified  he himself  is the presence of God, the Word made flesh, the new temple of God.

Luke says Jesus taught in the temple “every day.” As our eternal high priest, he teaches us every day and brings us to his Father and our Father–every day.

Jesus is the temple that cannot be destroyed. At his trial before he died, witnesses gave testimony that was half right when they said he spoke of destroying the temple. When he spoke about the destruction of the temple, Jesus was speaking of the temple of his own body. Death seemed to destroy him, but he was raised up on the third day.

We share in this mystery as “members of his body.” Yet, we’re a sacramental people and need places to come together, to pray and to meet God who “dwells among us.” We need churches and holy places. We instinctively revolt when we see them go.

We recognize the heroism of the Maccabees.

Wisdom

img_0325

Everyday this week, the 32nd week of the year, we’re reading at Mass from the Book of Wisdom. The wisdom literature in the bible–Proverbs, Job, Ecclesiastes, Wisdom, Sirach– is not primarily spiritual wisdom or the high-level learning of graduate school. It’s the wisdom there in the school of everyday.

Jesus’ parable of the wise and foolish virgins from Matthew’s gospel offers an example.  Why didn’t the foolish virgins bring enough oil to the wedding like the wise virgins did? They didn’t learn from their own experience. It’s as simple as that. (Matthew 24, 1-13)

The wisdom tradition insists we need to learn from our own experience of life and the experience of others.  Yes, God’s help is there, but God expects us to help ourselves, and we have to do that everyday.

“The beginning of wisdom is: get wisdom;

whatever else you get, get understanding.” (Proverbs 4,7)

Keep learning, from childhood to old age; it’s imperative. The search for wisdom goes on daily, whether the day is easy or dark, whether there’s joy or suffering. (Book of Job)

The wisdom literature recognizes obstacles in the search for wisdom. We get fixated on things like success, careers, money, pleasure, health, politics, but the school of life is bigger than any of these.

The wisdom literature recognizes too that we’re drawn to a greater reality. “Fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” We’re made to wonder before what is greater than we are. We’re not satisfied with small things. “Our hearts are restless, till they rest in you.”

“Resplendent and unfading is Wisdom,

and she is readily perceived by those who love her,

and found by those who seek her.

She hastens to make herself known to those who desire her;

one who watches for her at dawn will not be disappointed,

for she will be found sitting at the gate.” (Wisdom 6, 12-14)

Where are the Leaders?


“ Our Sister Earth cries out, pleading that we take another course. Never have we so hurt and mistreated our common home as we have in the last two hundred years. Yet we are called to be instruments of God our Father, so that our planet might be what he desired when he created it and correspond with his plan for peace, beauty and fullness.

The problem is that we still lack the culture needed to confront this crisis. We lack leadership capable of striking out on new paths and meeting the needs of the present with concern for all and without prejudice towards coming generations. The establishment of a legal framework which can set clear boundaries and ensure the protection of ecosystems has become indispensable; otherwise, the new power structures based on the techno-economic paradigm may overwhelm not only our politics but also freedom and justice.

It is remarkable how weak international political responses have been. The failure of global summits on the environment make it plain that our politics are subject to technology and finance. There are too many special interests, and economic interests easily end up trumping the common good and manipulating information so that their own plans will not be affected. Any genuine attempt by groups within society to introduce change is viewed as a nuisance based on romantic illusions or an obstacle to be circumvented.”

Pope Francis, Laudato SI 54-55

The Season of Creation, September 1st -October 5th

The Season of Creation spans five weeks between the World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation, September 1st, and the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi, October 4th

This “time for creation” offers, in the words of Pope Francis, “individual believers and communities a fitting opportunity to reaffirm their personal vocation to be stewards of creation, to thank God for the wonderful handiwork which he has entrusted to our care, and to implore his help for the protection of creation as well as his pardon for the sins committed against the world in which we live.”

“As Christians we wish to contribute to resolving the ecological crisis which humanity is presently experiencing. In doing so, we must first rediscover in our own rich spiritual patrimony the deepest motivations for our concern for the care of creation. We need always to keep in mind that, for believers in Jesus Christ, the Word of God who became man for our sake, “the life of the spirit is not dissociated from the body or from nature or from worldly realities, but lived in and with them, in communion with all that surrounds us” (Laudato Si’, 216). The ecological crisis thus summons us to a profound spiritual conversion: Christians are called to “an ecological conversion whereby the effects of their encounter with Jesus Christ become evident in their relationship with the world around them” (ibid., 217). For “living our vocation to be protectors of God’s handiwork is essential to a life of virtue; it is not an optional or a secondary aspect of our Christian experience” (ibid.)
Pope Francis, August 6, 2015

“The heavens declare your glory, O Lord, and the stars of the sky bring light to our darkness.
You spoke, and the earth burst forth in life, you saw that it was good.
You called forth creation, and enlivened every creature on land and sea.
You made human beings in your image, and set us over the whole world in all of its wonders.
You gave us share in your dominion, and called us “to till and to keep” this garden, the work of your hands.
This day we praise you for your manifold gifts.
May our daily care for your creation show reverence for your name,
and reveal your saving power in every creature under heaven.
We make this prayer in the name of Christ your son, in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
One God forever and ever. Amen.

Saint Lawrence, the Deacon

st. lawrence 2
Church of St. Lawrence, 17th century map

Today’s the Feast of St. Lawrence, the deacon. In the 4th century the Emperor Constantine built a splendid church honoring him on the Via Tiburtina, near one of the major gateways to the city. Why did he build the church? To honor a martyr who died for his faith? The emperor saw plenty of people dying bravely for one cause or another. It had to be something more.

Lawrence was a deacon of the Roman church in the middle of the 3rd century, when Rome began to experience wars and political instability. Gothic tribes were breaching the Roman lines along the Rhine River and the Persians were invading in the east.

The only thing to do was expand the army, and that’s what the Emperor Valerian did. It was time to build walls and expand armies. That cost money, of course, and in Rome the burden fell heavily on the poor. Famine and plague only worsened their situation.

That’s when the Christian church stepped in to help. Christians were still relatively few in numbers then, not wealthy, but they gave generously to the poor, and the Roman people admired what they saw.

Lawrence, the deacon, was behind this extraordinary Christian effort. After all, Jesus said: “I was hunger, and you gave me to eat; I was thirsty, you gave me to drink; I was sick and you visited me.”

Rome’s leaders became upset by the church’s growing popularity. They also wondered if the church’s money couldn’t be channeled towards their war effort. And so, in 257 an edict was published to imprison church leaders and confiscate church money. A second edict in 258 caused blood to flow. Pope Xystus II and four deacons were seized in the catacombs of St. Callistus and executed on August 6th. Lawrence, the deacon, was seized and executed on August 10th. That’s why his feast day is today.

Popular stories later offered a colorful account of Lawrence’s martyrdom shaping his story and the way artists pictured him :

The Roman prefect, anxious for the church’s money, promised Lawrence freedom if he would transfer it over to him. Lawrence asked for three days to get the church’s treasures together for delivery to the prefect’s house. Then, going through the city he gathered all the poor and unfortunate supported by the church and brought them to the prefect’s door. “Here are the church’s treasures,” he told the official, “ – the blind, the lame, the orphans and the old.”

The prefect ordered Lawrence burned alive on a gridiron. Those witnessing his execution said the saint went to his death cheerfully, even joking with his executioners. “Turn me over, I’m done on this side.”

After these events the Roman church gained a flood of converts. Respect for Christianity grew, not just because of its brave martyrs, but because of its outreach to the poor.

I think that’s the reason Constantine built a church honoring Lawrence, not just because he died for his faith, but because of his care of the poor. Besides the church’s political support, the emperor appreciated what it could do for the empire he ruled. It would take care of the poor.

Wherever you go in Rome, you are going to find Lawrence. There are other churches honoring him; he’s often pictured with Peter and Paul, the founders of the Roman church; Michelangelo has him among the blessed at the last judgment in the Sistine Chapel. Lawrence represents something important in the church.

A large fresco of the saint stands at the entrance to the Vatican Museum’s Chapel of Nicholas V with its priceless works of art. Lawrence seems blind to the riches all around him as he boldly proclaims the message inscribed beneath his feet: The Poor are the Treasures of the Church.

They should always be the treasures of the church.

St. Bridget of Sweden ( 1303-1373)

St. Bridget of Sweden, whose feast is July 23rd, was a 14th century mystic who strongly influenced Christian art and spirituality, She challenged the powerful of her day, first the court of Sweden and later the papal court in Rome.

Born into an influential Swedish family with ties to the royal court. Bridget married Ulf Gudmarrson when she was 14. They had 8 children, one of whom is also honored as a saint, Catherine of Sweden

As a child of 10 Bridget was attracted to the mystery of the Passion of Jesus and that mystery inspired her prayer and spirituality ever afterwards. She protested the wanton living and uncaring policies of the Swedish royalty towards the poor. After her husband’s death in 1334 Bridget founded a religious community, continuing to speak out fearlessly against the lifestyle and privileges of the powerful.

In 1350 Bridget went to Rome to gain approval for her Order of the Most Holy Savior, the Brigittines. There she urged the Pope, then in Avignon in France, fleeing the turmoil in the papal states, to return to Rome. The pope was a shepherd, she said, who should be with his sheep, especially in times of turmoil.

Bridget’s prayers and revelations, widely circulated in her time, were reminders of what Jesus said and did, especially the example he gave in his Passion.

She inspired artists in their portrayals of the mysteries of Christ. An example is her vision of Mary and Joseph adoring the Child lying on the ground; by his Incarnation he made this world his home. Previously, Mary was portrayed at the crib, lying down after giving birth. Now she joins Joseph and the shepherds (humanity) adoring the Word made flesh.

Jesus birth
Adoration of the Child, Giorgione, 1507, National Gallery, Washington

Bridget also inspired the devotion and portrayal of Mary holding the body of Jesus after his crucifixion, the Pieta. As he holds him, she recalls holding him at his birth in Bethlehem, Bridget says in her reflections.

Rhine Valley, 14th century

In 1371, Bridget and some of her family went on pilgrimage to the Holy Land; her vivid accounts from there further stimulated the religious imagination of her contemporaries. On July 23, 1373 she died in Rome. Bridget Is the patroness of Sweden and of Europe.

The church always needs strong women like Bridget, firm in faith and unafraid to speak out. Society too needs women like her in politics and business to steer its course into the future.

Prayer of St. Bridget

Jesus, true and fruitful Vine! Remember the abundant outpouring of blood shed from your sacred body as juice from grapes in a wine press.    From your side, pierced with a lance by a soldier, blood and water poured out until there was not left in your body a single drop.

Through your bitter Passion and your precious blood poured out, receive my soul when I come to die. Amen.

O good Jesus! Pierce my heart so that my tears of penance and love will be my bread day and night; may I be converted entirely to you, may my heart be your home, may my conversation please you, may I merit heaven at the end of my life and be with you and your saints, to praise you forever. Amen

Sustainable Development Goals


What can we do as we swelter through the heat these days? We wonder in a world worried about its future. Can we do anything? Let’s not be afraid of big ideas. Why not think big?

In September 2015 world leaders at the United Nations agreed to work for 17 Sustainable Development Goals by 2030. The goals aim to “eliminate poverty, fight inequality and tackle climate change, while ensuring no one is left behind. They recognize that ending poverty must go hand-in-hand with strategies that build economic growth and address a range of social needs including education, health, social protection, and job opportunities, while also tackling climate change and environmental protection.” https://www.un.org/sustainabledevelopment/development-agenda/

Cities have become an important focus for Sustainable Development, because today more than half the world’s population lives in cities and that number is expected to reach two-thirds by the year 2060. In cities “the battle for sustainability will be won or lost,” one UN expert remarked. https://www.un.org/sustainabledevelopment/blog/2018/07/un-forum-spotlights-cities-struggle-sustainability-will-won-lost/

The 11th goal of Sustainable Development is “making cities safe, inclusive, resilient and sustainable by 2030. Sustainability differs from city to city, but quality of life means among other things, adequate housing, work and employment, clean water and air, access to public transportation.

Mayors throughout the United States have recognized the important role that cities can play in achieving the SDGs. Last year, 2018, New York City is the first city to issue a report on its progress towards sustainability. https://www1.nyc.gov/assets/international/downloads/pdf/NYC_VLR_2018_FINAL.pdf

Governments, civil society and the private sector are all called upon to contribute to the realization of these goals. https://www.un.org/sustainabledevelopment/blog/2016/05/mobilizing-citizens-of-the-world-to-achieve-the-2030-agenda/

At a time when countries are building walls and thinking only of themselves, why not think big? What can we do? Our church, at least here in the US doesn’t seem active enough.